You’re a program or project manager facing myriad choices when it comes to the acquisition process. Should you use a traditional Federal Acquisition Regulation-based model? Or perhaps an other transaction authority?
A rapid prototyping-rapid fielding approach? Which type of contracting strategy should you use—a task order/delivery order? A blanket purchase agreement?
Finding the best approach is now a little less murky thanks to a set of acquisition digital prototypes produced by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (OUSD(A&S)) and MITRE Corp. and hosted on the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) website.
The acquisition digital prototypes—the Adaptive Acquisition Framework and the Contracting Cone, as well as an Other Transactions (OT) Guide — were rolled out in late 2018, and are easy-to-use, interactive tools.
The Adaptive Acquisition Framework shows the many different paths an acquisition program can follow and lets users click through the details for each path. Additional pathways, tailored models and new content will be added over time.
The Contracting Cone outlines the full spectrum of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and non-FAR contract strategies, and supporting materials provide details about each strategy. The goal of the tool is to provide visibility into new or lesser-known strategies and ensure that the full range of contract strategies is considered. Eventually, “our hope is that every part of the cone will be clickable,” said Samuel N. Parks, communications and program analyst at DAU.
The Other Transactions (OT) Guide provides an overview of OTs — legal acquisition instruments other than contracts, grants or cooperative agreements that offer a streamlined method for carrying out prototype projects and transitioning successes into follow-on production—in addition to real-world examples. The guide also includes 10 “myth busters” that debunk some of the most common misconceptions about OTs.
Also available on the DAU website is a 10-episode “Other Transaction Mythbusting Video Series” by DAU Professor Diane Sidebottom, who came to DAU from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and was involved in writing the OT Guide. Congress first authorized the use of OTs in 1958, with the legislation that created NASA. Congress allowed DARPA to use OTs in 1989, and their use was extended to the military services in 1996.
Feedback on the prototypes has been “really positive,” said Parks. Nearly 20,000 users have visited the website since it went live in December, he said, and several users across DOD plan to incorporate the tools into contracting and acquisition training programs.
IT’S ALL ABOUT OPTIONS
The acquisition digital prototype was driven by Ben FitzGerald and others in the OUSD(A&S). (FitzGerald has since left the Pentagon for a private business opportunity.) FitzGerald is a former senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and Senate Armed Services Committee staffer who was brought to the Pentagon in December 2017 by the Hon. Ellen M. Lord, the USD(A&S), to oversee the splitting of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics into the USD(A&S) and the USD for Research and Engineering. As a Senate staffer, FitzGerald helped write a requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018 for “digitized acquisition policy.” The prototype on the DAU website is an outgrowth of that policy.
“One of the things that we are attempting to do as we implement acquisition reforms is to provide a more flexible acquisition framework, which is where we’ve come up with this concept of an adaptive acquisition framework that allows programs to apply the right tools, the right acquisition policy, the right contracting tool, to the program that they are running. Because we recognize that there’s a wide variety of programs and multiple valid ways to deliver those programs,” FitzGerald told Army AL&T in December. “So in seeking to do that in terms of seeking to provide more options, we needed to find ways to communicate those options in a way that is hopefully easily understood and easy to share and communicate.”
Spurred by acquisition reforms built into the NDAAs passed by Congress from FY16 through FY19 —“There is a historic quantity of acquisition reform in those NDAAs,” FitzGerald said — the USD(A&S) “wanted to focus on being a data-driven policy and governance organization. And we saw, as we shifted to that, we felt the need to have ways to communicate our policy in more flexible ways and in ways that allowed us to do easier analysis of the policy itself.”
More online tools are on the way, beginning with one on middle-tier acquisition, although the timing is uncertain.
The focus from the get-go was collaboration and simplification, FitzGerald said. “When we did the OT guide, we intentionally brought in representatives from DARPA, from the Defense Innovation Unit, from DASA(P) [Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement] within the Army, equivalent organizations in the Air Force and Navy, from DAU, to make sure that we were writing a product that was optimized for the users … you know, the people who were actually going to be agreements officers, or who were in industry trying to understand how the agreements will get put together, those types of things.”
DAU’s role as a “central hub for acquisition knowledge” was particularly important, FitzGerald said. “We want to make sure that they are involved in all of that policy development so that they can inform us, as the policy writers, on what they’re learning from students, what students are saying, and those types of things. And so that they understand from the outset how we were thinking about developing the policy, so they can communicate that back to their students, almost in real time.”
In the end, though, it’s the acquisition workforce that will decide the future of such prototyping efforts. “So what we’re seeking to learn over the course of this year is how much does the acquisition workforce value these types of tools?” FitzGerald said. “Because if we want to do that on an ongoing basis, it’s going to require a lot of effort to make sure that everything is up to date and consistent and internally linked and all of that.
“So we’re putting it out there as a prototype and if the acquisition workforce really values it, then we’ll be able to make an argument for further investment in it. But if the acquisition workforce is fine with PDFs, then we can keep doing that, too.”
For more information, go to the DAU website at https://www.dau.mil.
This article was written by Michael Bold who provides contract support to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center. This article was published with the title “At Your Fingertips” in the Spring issue of Army AL&T magazine.